Mick McCarthy makes his international comeback on Thursday as he announces his first Ireland squad for the upcoming Euro 2020 qualifiers against Gibraltar and Georgia.
The ex-Ireland captain has a massive task on his hands given the fact that Ireland has one of its most-stretched player pools in decades.
With only a handful of top-flight players and many regulars out of form, McCarthy will have to carefully choose who he can trust to go straight into the crucial competitive fixtures.
McCarthy does have the bones of a very good team with some in-form players, exciting young players and potential ‘Granny Rule’ converts available to him in addition to some experienced campaigners.
We have a look at the pool McCarthy is likely to choose from as well as a predicted 30 man squad.
Despite not having any top-flight regulars to choose from in the goalkeeping department, McCarthy can call on two of the best goalkeepers in the Championship in current number one Darren Randolph (Middlesbrough) and Kieran Westwood (Sheffield Wednesday).
Despite a turbulent few weeks, Sean McDermott (Kristiansund) is back in Norway where he regarded as one of the best keepers in the league and could be third-choice.
Rob Elliot (Newcastle) and Caoimhin Kelleher of Liverpool are Premier League Goalkeepers but have yet to make an appearance this season. Colin Doyle (Hearts) is expected to be named after talks with McCarthy with Kieran O’Hara (Macclesfield Town/Manchester United) also in good form.
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The big talking point will be how McCarthy accommodates both Seamus Coleman (Everton) and Matt Doherty (Wolves) – with the former not yet confirmed as captain. Cyrus Christie of Fulham is another Premier League regular right back with Shane Duffy of Brighton expected to be one of the first names in the squad as is Derby captain Richard Keogh.
Ciaran Clark (Newcastle) has struggled for game-time despite his experience and had formed a solid partnership with Duffy. However, injuries have seen him slip down the pecking order with Kevin Long of Burnley also suffering from a lack of first-team action after a poor run of form. John Egan and Enda Stevens of Sheffield United look set to be named with the latter pushing for a starting berth.
Egan was responsible for goals in each of his competitive caps and is unlikely to be an automatic pick despite his domestic form. Greg Cunningham got some game time with Cardiff in the Premier League but has not played in a few weeks making him an unlikely pick despite being a top-flight operator.
Stephen Ward (Burnley) remains out with his club mate Robbie Brady, an Ian Harte-esque candidate for the left-back slot given the form of Callum O’Dowda on the left wing. Liverpool duo Corey Whelan and Conor Masterson have been around the first team squad at Anfield and could be surprise inclusions as could Inter Milan’s Ryan Nolan who was on the bench for his clubs Europa League tie two weeks ago and Lee O’Connor who featured in Martin O’Neill’s last squad.
Joe Rafferty (Preston), Luke Leahy (Wallsall), Derrick Williams (Blackburn Rovers) and Jimmy Dunne (Sunderland) could also find their way into the squad as could Darragh Lenihan (Blackburn) who struggled against Northern Ireland but has the ball playing attributes Irish centre halves have lacked.
Ryan Delaney of Rochdale has also emerged as a shock contender after being spotted by Robbie Keane while up against striker James Collins.
Despite no Declan Rice, Alan Browne’s form this season has brought hope to many Irish fans. The Cork man could end up in the Premier League next season after transforming his game at Preston and could start in the number 10 role. He will be joined by regular Premier League starters Harry Arter (Cardiff City) and Jeff Hendrick (Burnley) who has featured on the right side of midfield lately.
James McCarthy is arguably Ireland’s best midfielder but has not played for his country in nearly two years, however, he could still be named in the squad.
Conor Hourihane, fresh from a brace at the weekend for Aston Villa is the type of midfielder McCarthy likes and could be the new Matt Holland if utilised properly. His Club mate Glenn Whelan who technically is not retired could find his way back into the fold as could another veteran Shaun Williams (Millwall) who showed he is well suited to the international game. McCarthy seems keen to bring Alan Judge (Ipswich) back in having name-checked the Dubliner several times but will need to wait for Danny Crowley’s international transfer to go through.
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David Meyler (Coventry/Reading) and James McClean (Stoke City) are no longer guaranteed starters given their poor form at club and international level. McClean will be in the squad but Meyler’s inclusion is unlikely considering he can’t get off the bench for Coventry despite captaining the side on his debut.
Richie Towell (Brighton/Rotherham) has been tremendous this season and could come in, as could Johnny Hayes of Celtic who has been terrific in recent weeks, operating as a winger and a left back.
Connor Ronan is enjoying his time at Slovak side Dunajski Streda and could be an outside shout, as could Cork City winger Daire O’Connor who is lighting the league up.
Michael Duffy of Dundalk is now Ireland qualified and could be another option. There have been calls for Aiden McGeady to make a return given his form in League One with many forgetting how well McGeady has performed domestically over the last three seasons despite the poor fortunes of his club sides and his struggles off the bench for Ireland.
Callum O’Dowda (Bristol City) is one of Ireland’s most in-form players and like Browne, could end up in the Premier League next season given his quality. Ronan Curtis (Portsmouth) who can play wide or through the middle is another who has been closely monitored by McCarthy and has been widely tipped to earn a Premier League move too.
It seems unlikely that Nathan Redmond will declare but McCarthy has certainly not given up hope.
Despite a severe lack of striking options during Robbie Keane’s latter days in an Irish shirt, Ireland are now spoilt for choice but it is unclear of who McCarthy’s best striking option is. He already seems to be a fan of in-form Sean Maguire who is arguably Ireland’s most naturally gifted striker who McCarthy really admires, however, he has struggled with a consistency of fitness which is a worry.
Shane Long (Southampton) is Ireland’s most established striker but his lack of goals could be a put off for McCarthy with the same barren run an issue for Scott Hogan (Sheffield United/Aston Villa).
Long’s clubmate Michael Obafemi will be unavailable through injury as is veteran Burnley striker Jon Walters. Callum Robinson looked like he could push for Ireland’s first choice striker before his injury and can also operate on either wing.
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He was a major coup by Martin O’Neill and will hope to be back in time for the squad announcement. David McGoldrick’s (Sheffield United) 11 goals and creative attributes will also make him a front runner in the squad, especially given the fact McCarthy is fond of the former Ipswich man.
Daryl Murphy (Nottingham Forest) has been touted for an international recall given McCarthy’s preference of a target man, however, this could also come in bulky forward James Collins of Luton Town who has found the net 20 times this season. Robbie Keane has watched the 28-year-old on several occasions and it would be no surprise to see him feature.
Fellow League One goal machines Simon Cox and Paddy Madden may also fancy their chances. Aiden O’Brien will also be considered given his ability to hold up the ball but the 25-year-old has been used as more of a wide man at club level with better finishers available to Ireland.
Lukas Jutkievicz who is having a tremendous season at Birmingham is another option but it is unclear if he has declared for Ireland yet. Patrick Bamford seems to finally be ready to reveal his international intentions but will not be eligible in time should he commit to Ireland.
The same can be said for Will Keane (Ipswich Town/Hull) who like Danny Crowley has submitted his paperwork for an international transfer. Pat Hoban of Dundalk has been touted by many for a call up but McCarthy may be reluctant to do so given his struggles in the past when stepping up from the League of Ireland.
There could also be an outside chance of Troy Parrott’s inclusion considering McCarthy called up Robbie Keane at a similar age.
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Predicted Squad for Gibraltar and Georgia
*Note: Danny Crowley and Will Keane may not be eligible on time
Darren Randolph (Middlesbrough)
Kieran Westwood (Sheffield Wednesday)
Colin Doyle (Hearts)
Seamus Coleman (Everton)
Matt Doherty (Wolves)
Cyrus Christie (Fulham)
Shane Duffy (Brighton and Hove Albion)
John Egan (Brentford)
Jimmy Dunne (Sunderland)
Ciaran Clark (Newcastle United)*
Richard Keogh (Derby County)
Enda Stevens (Sheffield United)
Greg Cunningham (Cardiff City)
James McCarthy (Everton)*
Harry Arter (Cardiff City)
Alan Browne (Preston North End)
Conor Hourihane (Aston Villa)
Shaun Williams (Millwall)
Jeff Hendrick (Burnley)
Alan Judge (Ipswich Town)
Aiden McGeady (Sunderland)
James McClean (Stoke City)
Robbie Brady (Burnley)
Callum O’Dowda (Bristol City)
Shane Long (Southampton)
Sean Maguire (Preston North End)
Callum Robinson (Preston North End)*
David McGoldrick (Sheffield United)
Ronan Curtis (Portsmouth)
James Collins (Luton Town)
*If the player is fit
Nick Menezes, Pundit Arena